Major League Baseball will announce the results to the All-Star balloting results for players who get to start in San Diego in this year’s game on Tuesday, and there were a lot of close races this year with many players deserving to start. Third base has become the premier position in baseball with young stars such as Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado, and Evan Longoria. The National League has an interesting positional battle this year at third base though between Arenado and Bryant. Bryant will almost certainly start the All-Star Game, but who really deserves the nod?
On the surface, Kris Bryant has hit 24 homers and has 63 RBIs along with a .279/.373/.575 slash line and 151 OPS+ this season. Nolan Arenado has 22 homers with 66 RBIs and has a slash line of .290/.364/.574 and a 127 OPS+. Bryant has played in one less game than Arenado at this point. The tip of the statistical iceberg says Kris Bryant is better thus far, despite both having fantastic seasons.
There’s a few more things to compare though. Arenado plays in the best hitter’s park in baseball, but Kris Bryant also plays in one of the better parks to hit in. Do either have bad splits when comparing the home and road? Kris Bryant is hitting .309/.398/.613 on the road with 27 extra-base hits against .236/.336/.520 with just 16 extra-base hits at Wrigley. Arenado hits .309/.391/.651 at home with 27 extra-base hits and on the road, .274/.340/.506 with 14 extra-base hits. When comparing these two things, it seems as if Bryant plays better outside of his park despite it being a park that favors hitters and that Arenado gets an advantage from Coors Field. Bryant is winning the offensive side of the battle thus far. In the WAR part of the battle, Bryant has 4.2 fWAR and 3.8 bWAR compared to Arenado’s 3.3 fWAR and 3.6 bWAR. Bryant seems to be winning the battle no matter what here with the bat.
Another way to look at it is, who would you vote as the MVP today? These two players are both near the top of their league in that conversation as we just looked at and if you’ve seen any highlights you’d see. Bryant’s team is headed for the playoffs and he’s been the best offensive and all-around player on a great team. You could argue that Arenado is just as valuable though, as the Rockies might literally be the worst team in baseball without him on the team. Also, Arenado has drawn Brooks Robinson comparisons since he’s a magician with the glove and one of the best hitters in the league. Bryant has a chance to become a great in this game and has lived up to it thus far though too. The whole MVP argument needs the second half of the season to be decided and it’s essentially a wash at this point, which doesn’t help us decide who the deserving starter is.
There’s more ways we can break this down though. Bryant is the better hitter right now it seems, even if Arenado is great at it too. When we take things like baserunning and defense into account, however, does anything change? This is like the 2012-13 AL MVP arguments to many, as they believed Mike Trout was better all-around despite Miguel Cabrera being the best hitter on the planet Earth. It’s not exactly the same, but I’ve heard arguments that Bryant’s all-around game is still growing, while Arenado is already a human vacuum and the best man at third in the NL. Looking at defensive metrics prove that Arenado is the better third baseman on defense, as FanGraphs has his defensive value at 10.0 and Baseball-Reference has his defensive WAR at 1.4. The thing is, Kris Bryant is pretty good on the defensive side too. He has a defensive value of 5.9 on FanGraphs and a 0.4 defensive WAR on Baseball-Reference. Bryant isn’t at Arenado’s level, but he’s certainly an above-average defender and has done while playing at least 25 innings at four different positions this season, which makes him more impressive and valuable to his team. What makes Arenado impressive on defense is his WOW factor, as he’s made 21 plays that are outs only 40% of the time or less according to Inside Edge; Bryant hasn’t made any. Arenado gets the defensive edge, but with Bryant’s own defense he’s still now quite good.
Bryant is also a better base runner, as he’s been worth 3.2 baserunning runs compared to Arenado’s -1.0 baserunning runs. Bryant is 3-5 in steals to Arenado’s 1-4 too. Arenado just isn’t a better all-around player by any measure.
Both players are really good, and this year they’ve been two of the top five players in baseball. However, it seems as if Kris Bryant and his hot bat that has carried the Chicago Cubs of late deserves to start the All-Star Game this year before Nolan Arenado comes in to relieve him, with a not so steep drop off of talent in the late innings.